The Domino Men by Jonathan Barnes

The Domino Men
Jonathan Barnes

I got a review copy of The Domino Men recently from Eos Books. I'd never read anything by Jonathan Barnes before, and I went into this story without knowing what it was about. I think that's the best way to start this book, because my first impression was the same as the main character's; I had no idea what was going on. Even fifty pages in, I was still puzzled.  There was only hints here and there from the strange events in protagonist and main narrator, Henry Lamb's life, of evil looming over London, and nothing being exactly what it seems. Although Henry's life seems a bit boring at first, working as a filing clerk at the Civil Service Archive Unit, it's clear from the get go that something is going to happen. His narrative begins with:

"I simply have to hope that there'll be time enough for me to set down my own story, or at least as much of it as I can remember before the thing which sleeps inside me wakes, stirs, flexes its muscles and, with a lazy flick of its gargantuan tail, gives me no alternative but to forget." 

Pretty ominous, eh? To make things more interesting, his narrative begins to get interrupted by another, conflicting voice, something that takes over Henry's consciousness and describes what's happening elsewhere. What ends up happening is that the reader gets completely caught up in the story. One crisis quickly follows another and clues to the big picture only comes in bite size pieces. There's the Directorate, a covert government group that is fighting something terrible that threatens London and all her citizens. They are very interested in Henry, for reasons that aren't immediately clear. Then there is Henry's grandfather, a man hated by this family except for Henry, and who is in a coma. He holds a lot of clues to Henry's current predicament. Surrounding all of this is a cast of oddball, sometimes supernatural characters, playing a long term game with London at stake.

The words that I kept using to describe this book to people was "creepy" and "disturbing", but it affected me like the way cartoon violence does; you're insulated by the vagueness and by the fact that you're reading a book. There is also some humor in the writing and tone, which keeps it from being truly scary, at least to me. I also had a good time recognizing paths that were likely going to cross and paying attention to all the foreshadowing. Certain minor details never really get explained, which I chalked up to atmosphere. It's not for everyone, but if you have a decent tolerance to sometimes gross events, and you like dark humor, you'll probably find this an enjoyable read. 

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